Friday, August 7, 2009

Rhetorical Intensity and Health Care: or the Affect of Biopolitics

It has been awhile, and friends have begun to ask questions, so it is time to see if I can get this up and running again.  From my perspective, the on-going health care "debate" in the United States provides an object lesson in how political economy and biopolitics are one and the same.  Or in less academic language, money and life are rendered equivalent.  A primary motivation of this blog is the identification and analysis of these equivalents.  First, the current recognition that an outrageous amount of lobbying money (forgive me, lobbying money is redundant since lobbying is money) affects the substance of  health care rhetoric is being made explicit by FiveThirtyEight and the New York Times.  It is not the implied quid pro quo of  money for votes that should be troubling but the systematic distortion of public debate into monetized forms of persuasion whether those monetized forms of persuasion exist in the form of PAC contributions or media ad buys).  Second, and of particular concern today, is the way the more face to face relationships between congressional representatives and their constituents is being played out in "town hall" meetings on Health Care.  As my friends at toxic culture put it: " We have a massive orchestrated campaign by the far right to simply yell and disrupt civil proceedings."  These rhetorical happenings leads Krugman to ask the question: "will Intimidation kill health care reform?"  Perhaps. But, what I wanted to highlight was another passage from Krugman's op-ed:

"But right now Mr. Obama's backers seem to lack all conviction, perhaps because the prosaic reality of his administration isn't living up to their dreams of transformation.  Meanwhile, the angry right is filled with a passionate intensity."

In other places, (warning: big file). I have written about conviction and how conviction is managed as a problem of liberal democratic theory and practice.  What i find useful about Krugman's description is how conviction and "passionate intensity" define one another. Conviction is a passionate intensity.  The Obama administration may be said to be rhetorically failing in this moment because they are unable to activate a passionate intensity (conviction) for change.  However, Obama's desire for a new politics to replace the "politics as usual" is  motivated by a desire to cool the passionate intensities he needs to promote change. In other words, his rhetorical intensity may inspire and direct the desire for change, but it does so in the name of legislative process and compromise.  A conviction for compromise is not very inspiring. 

To get scholastic:  The passionate intensity of conviction is best suited for a hegemonic politics, it does not lend itself to a dialogic politics.  Moreover, the health care debate expresses a biopolitics, it is politics about life.  As the "Town Hall Mobs'" illustrate,  the right understands the affective dimension of biopolitics (health care); they understand that if they can tie "government health care" to the "dialogic reasoning" of the State, they win.  Obama needs an enemy, quick.  Start naming names.  The insurance companies and the drug companies are a good place to start as well as those congressional leaders in the back pocket of these companies.  Politics and sports have one thing in common: win or go home.  Its time for Obama to get the crowd back into the game.